Los Cerritos residents hold community meeting for solutions to private security debate

“What happens to civilians calling (police) for doing regular activities? We have a racial profiling problem here in the neighborhood. How will LBPD triage those calls?”

“How does community watch help when neighbors are sleeping?”

Those were some of the questions posed in a virtual community meeting for the Los Cerritos neighborhood, where a battle is raging between neighbors who want to hire private security patrol to deal with an uptick in crime, and those who are concerned that it will lead to racial profiling.

The meeting on Wednesday night was hosted by 8th District Councilman Al Austin, members of the Long Beach Police Department’s North Division and City Attorney Charlie Parkin, who explained some of the legalities surrounding the issue of private security in neighborhoods.

Austin said the meeting was a stepping point for neighbors to begin the process of finding solutions.

“This is not meant to be a debate over options, this is a conversation to get us to work together as a community,” he said.

This upscale neighborhood near Bixby Knolls on the city’s north side has been engaged in a debate since the beginning of the year over whether to hire private security, and the contention has spilled into heated arguments on Facebook and NextDoor.

The neighborhood has seen a 7% uptick in property crime this year, but that’s lower than the citywide 18% property crime increase, which North Division Police Commander Anthony Lopez on Wednesday attributed to the recent shift in no-money bail for low-level offenses.

“They get right back out and they re-offend,” he said.

As for tension in the neighborhood, Wednesday’s meeting remained congenial with residents asking questions and talking about solutions.

One of those solutions is a more robust community watch program with block-by-block organizing. Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association President Bob Gill said volunteers will help with rosters.

Some, however, were concerned that a neighborhood watch program doesn’t prevent crime at night when most people are sleeping.

Lopez said police can work with the community watch programs to educate people about crimes of opportunity, such as locking their cars and not leaving valuables out.

“It sounds really basic, but it happens a lot,” he said.

Lopez also encouraged residents to get more engaged with their local police, following the division on social media and visiting the website for the latest crime rate data.

For now, It remains unclear whether the neighborhood will make a decision on the private security issue, but for some residents, concern over racial profiling remains. Some people of color said police have stopped them in front of their homes for no reason.

When asked how Long Beach police handle calls on people of color for doing normal activities in the neighborhood, Lopez said officers have extensive racial profiling training, in addition to body-worn cameras, and other “checks and balances” to prevent profiling.

“We have mechanisms in place,” he said.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected]m.
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